GLENS FALLS — Glens Falls Hospital is taking dozens of former patients to civil court over bills that some patients say were issued in error.
So many people have received summonses that Glens Falls City Court is now automatically scheduling all of them to meet with a mediator before going further with the complaints.
Mediation Matters of Saratoga sends volunteers to City Court every Wednesday. This Wednesday, mediators will meet with the first wave of 26 patients who have been sent summonses since June 1.
It is a large increase from the hospital’s typical procedure. In January and February, for example, the hospital sent summonses to a total of 9 patients.
For those who lose, the cost could be high. The court has tacked on $600 for court costs plus interest of more than 10 percent on the original bill.
In past months, no one responded to their summons, and generally the judge issued a summary judgment against them.
But in the past few weeks, lawyers and patients have begun to fight back.
One patient typed his own response to a $1,800 bill.
“I do not owe this money, this is not my bill,” wrote Steve McIntosh of South Glens Falls.
He went on to say that he wrote the hospital to dispute the bill after it was sent to him a year ago, but the hospital only sent him the bill again. Then he called and was told it was for a blood test.
“I have had blood tests done many times before and know they don’t cost anywhere near $1,800,” he wrote.
He added that he checked with his insurance, which had not received the bill, and that he did not believe he had gotten a blood test done during the time period.
“I really don’t know what else to say in my defense other than I am defenseless against these ruthless lawyers for the hospital. My family and I will never go there again for anything after this nightmare,” he said.
He wondered if the bill had been sent in error because of the hospital’s billing problems. The hospital switched to a new computer system in November 2016 and spent the next 20 months struggling to get any bills out the door. Insurance companies eventually denied more than $38 million in claims, because they were sent too late in 2017 and 2018. The hospital then tried to bill patients for the amount that the insurers had denied, and sent out multiple bills for the same service even after the first bills had been paid.
Many bills also had wrong information — mainly the wrong doctor or the wrong procedure. Since the bills were not sent out for a year or more, it became far more difficult to figure out the correct details.
CEO Dianne Shugrue said in March that the billing issues had been “comprehensively addressed and resolved” but later said that another billing problem had occurred. She has not described that problem.
McIntosh noted in his court response that his bill was from early 2018, when the billing problems were going on.
“Glens Falls Hospital has recently publicly admitted to major billing mistakes and financial trouble. This must be one of their mistakes,” he said.
Another patient, Rae Locke, said in her written response to court that she had paid $1,200 toward her bill in monthly payments until the hospital stopped billing her in November 2018. On Feb. 28, she said she asked the hospital’s debt collector for a complete bill and a payment schedule and was assured that both would arrive in the mail. They never came, she said. Finally, on June 24, after getting the court summons, she asked for a payment schedule again and was told one could not be provided, she said.
“The complaint does not acknowledge that defendant has made good faith payments in the total amount of $1,200,” she wrote.
She offered to pay the rest of the bill, after she gets one. But she said she would not pay any interest, fees or other costs.
At mediation, volunteers will help create a civil conversation so that the patients can come to a settlement with the hospital’s debt collectors.
“We’re there to facilitate the conversation, help it be effective,” said Program Coordinator Will Siegel-Sawma. “We give people the space to talk about whatever is going on, and to find solutions that are going to work for all the parties in the room.”
In many cases with overdue bills, the solution is a payment plan. But people can be creative, Siegel-Sawma said.
“If there’s somebody in the community who has a service and they want to do some bartering, anything is up for discussion at the table,” he said.
Tracy Mills, the hospital’s vice president of planning, said in a written statement the hospital will “work with all patients to establish manageable payment plans.”
“We encourage any patient who has a question about their bill to contact our billing resource center at 518-926-1320,” she said.